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90 reviews in total 
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A Prophet (2009)
3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Honor among thugs, 6 September 2010

In his first two films, Jacques Audiard made me want to really like him, and while the world went a bit gaga for "De battre mon Coeur s'est Arrete" (and I enjoyed it well enough), I felt something just missing for me. I therefore may have approached "Un Prophete" with more than a bit of anxiety. I needn't have for within a single minute I fell headlong into the dangerous world of one of 2009's most powerful films.

Aduiard draws us into the life of 19 year old French/Arab Malik El Djebena, a street kid, now incarcerated for the first time in an adult prison. Malik wishes nothing but to be left alone and serve his six years without incident. He never gets that chance. For two and a half hours, we ar mesmerized as we witness Malik's journey from innocence and subservience to the most powerful king pin in the prison.

Tahar Rahim's performance is nothing short of astonishing, making the morose and frightened Malik a character you can only route for throughout his tortured six year stint. Uneducated, but wise beyond his years, the young prisoner improves himself through education, craft, cunning allowing his restlessness to steer him in whatever direction it needs in order to survive. As César Luciani, overlord of the prison, Niels Arestrup's is the perfect foil to Rahim's Malik and the scenes between Corsican master and Arab servant crackle with a nervous energy while Aduaiard keeps layering tension, mistrust, honor, privilege and loyalty into the mixture leading everything to a predictable, but wholly satisfying conclusion.

Audiard's style makes life in this prison alternately real and surreal tossing in elements of fantasy and madness which coalesce with a beautifully disturbing madness, such as Malik's repeated visitations of his first victim, a man he was forced by Luciani and his thugs in order to justify his own existence. You cannot make a prison movie without kindness and brotherhood entering into the equation and the friendship between Malik and fellow Arab prisoner, Ryab (a terrific performance by Adel Bencherif) establish a bond that will be not only far reaching but ultimately the salvation for both men.

Racism, too is ever a present guest here and I could only watch in wonder and respect as Malik moves between the Muslims, Egyptians, Italians, Corsicans and French judging the worth of each on their own merits (or how he can best use them) rather than the prejudice the others use to define their worlds.

Dark, gritty, powerful yet full of hope, "Un Prophete" beats just about any U.S. studio made film last year and I hope it receives the recognition it deserves Stateside. A truly remarkable and emotionally rewarding movie.

3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Still potent after all these years, 30 June 2010

I just finished watching a movie that, when I first saw it in 1986, made such an impression on me that I could think of nothing else for days. It came at a fragile and life changing moment in my life and for some seven nights I walked several miles back and forth in a bitter winter to see it at the once splendid Ontario Theatre in Washington, DC. The film was Roland Joffé's epic "The Mission" with the unlikely cast of Jeremy Irons, Robert DeNiro, Liam Neeson and Ray McNally. When I first saw it I thought it to be amongst the most beautiful films I'd ever seen, and nearly 25 years later, think so still. While nominated and winning many international awards, The Mission was mostly ignored by Hollywood, receiving only one Oscar (cinematography).

The complexities of the story telling in "The Mission" are almost too much to take in in a single film lasting a bit more than two hours, but Jaffe has woven them together with a touch that is both delicate and profound, creating a tapestry as impressive and intricate as any medieval Flemish tapestry, its story held together flawlessly.

While supposedly created for our own preservation and edification, politics and religion have done as much or more unspeakable horrors in the names of God and Man as they have good and in "The Mission" we see the bloody result, despite the effort of a few rebel priests who believe in the power of love and the natives with whom they try to share their world. The villains are plentiful in this "true tale" and Joffe never disguises them, allowing the deceptive simplicities of "good versus evil" run its predictable course, as they twist and turn everything they touch into the inevitable choked and knotted apocalypse of sorrow that is always the end result of greed.

Despite its bleak, often hopeless nature, Joffe nonetheless gives us a miracle: a film of such ineffable beauty that stirs both heart and mind through the combination of remarkable acting, a wilderness captured in breathtaking cinematography, battles both physical and spiritual, and wed it all to one of the most remarkable musical scores of the late 20th century.

Alexandra (2007)
6 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Vishnevskaya shines as Sokurov's Alexandra, 15 June 2010

What an absolutely magnificent, overwhelming and ultimately satisfying film this is.

Sokurov stated he had never written his own screenplay before, but felt it his duty to write a film for Vishnevskaya, partly to honor her as a great actress, but also to hopefully expiate his sins as a young man who said nothing, did nothing while people like Vishnevskaya and Rostropovich openly decried the soviet regime and their belief in democracy and human freedom generally.

Few people make more beautiful looking films than Sokurov, and "Alexandra" is no exception, despite its location and subject matter. Shot in the barren wastelands of war ravaged Chechnyan border, Sokurov's ever changing palette moves from brilliantly captured colors (a tree's leaves rustling in the breeze against a dusty background) to dreamlike darkness, black and white and sepia tone - the visual equivalent of a symphony or sonata. I always forget how frustrated I become at the beginning of one of his films because his soundscapes always begin almost inaudibly, the ear straining to catch bits of dialogue that seem almost not there. It's an effect which ultimately works drawing the viewer into the world he's creating, not unlike one's initial inability to figure out what's going on when entering a party or event.

There is not much to the story: an old woman, going to visit her long absent grandson, Denis, an army captain, at his base camp on the Chechnyan border. After an arduous journey she arrives to the camp, a makeshift military tent village and settles in as images of her journey pass through her mind (this happens frequently throughout). She awakens to find Denis asleep and a truly touching reunion ensues, as he parades her through the camp watching the soldiers going about their mundane duties. Denis is often gone, but the base soldiers stare at and interact with this independent, feisty, rule-breaking old lady and we sense the soldiers' longing for home and love. A day long journey to a Chechen village to buy cigarettes and cookies for the soldiers, finds her in a pitiful marketplace and at the point of exhaustion, where she is befriended by another old woman, the rest of the villagers fascinated by this "foreigner." Vishnevskaya's performance is nothing short of astonishing as is her physical appearance: stripped of elegant costumes, hair color, and make up, her crusty, tired old Russian grandmother still radiates an undeniable beauty, and Sokurov's camera frequently lingers on it. That face, at once world weary, angry, frightened somehow almost always registers a kind of hope that infuses the entire film. Alexandra mumbles - constantly, even when no one's around, or her grandson has left their quarters, an almost endless monologue. Scenes of her wandering the camp, the roads, shuffling along in her old lady shoes, complaining of her bad legs is precisely the type of thing that would bore one to tears in most films, but here, oh there is something underneath all of that.

Sokurov's uses his usual casting tricks and lights his actors with a radiance that everyone - even angry young men - look beatific, with a belief that everyone really IS beautiful. There is a bit of naiveté in such thinking and that (for me) is what makes all of the films I've seen of his, seem "more than a movie," but never preachy. The actor portraying Denis really could be Alexandra's grandson as when they sit together on his cot, their faces are so similar it's uncanny.

"Alexandra" is a war movie that never shows a single fight scene but rather the "real" price of war and in so doing, is a powerful, sometimes heartbreaking statement.

The movie is almost overloaded with moments of extreme tenderness and poignancy - which against the ravaged, brutal and stark background, makes them all the more moving. Alexandra's new Chechen friend asks a teenage neighbor boy to accompany her on the walk back to the base and their brief conversation is one of the film's most powerful moments, when he asks "why won't you let us be free?" "If only it were that simple, my boy," telling him the first thing we should ask God for is intelligence . . . strength does not lie in weapons or in our hands." The movie is filled with these little pearls that could almost be cliché, but not when uttered by this remarkable old woman.

The scene of her last night with Denis almost undid me completely . . . never mind "almost" it did just that. Only 90 minutes, the movie felt even shorter and I can't recall a recent film that had me smiling and near tears so many times with so seemingly "little" to it. A truly remarkable achievement by a wonderful filmmaker and an 81 year old actress in her first non-singing film. I hope others will take the time to see what may be Sokurov's most human film to date.

3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Intense Indie Flick about IRA escapee hiding in the U.S., 31 May 2010

This is a low budget film of an intense yet simple tale, mired in blood and hopelessness. Sean, a young man must leave his wife, child - his life in Ireland after a planned IRA bombing goes wrong. In a shady deal he's smuggled to San Francisco to disappear into America, but first be stripped of his accent, his language, his past and his identity. Kept in an unfurnished apartment doubling as prison cell, Sean (and the viewer) begins to realize that those who are hiding Sean don't necessarily have his best interest at heart, and soon his life is further jeopardized when his unscrupulous captors use him to conduct money bag hand offs with Asian warlords. The only kindness Sean receives is at the hands of the daughter of the leader.

A side story of the budding friendship between Sean and the leader's daughter relieves some of the tension, but the hopelessness of the situation remains at the forefront of every frame.

Decent performances from most of the cast, particularly the always reliable Mark Pellegrino, as the evil bodyguard whose facade exhibits a helpful gentility that never quites hides the heartless beast beneath. Likewise, David Polcyn beautifully captures Sean's panic, fear, anger and sense of betrayal, never knowing what to expect from one minute to the next.

Slowly paced, taking place almost entirely in a single room, only so-so sound this film - almost unrelenting in its tension - will not appeal to everyone, but certain viewers (like me) will find the effort pays off and will leave them thinking about not just the film, but the nature of its story. That is reward aplenty.

120 out of 163 people found the following review useful:
Duchovny's Back and He's Got the Goods!, 18 August 2007

I can't remember when I laughed so steadily from start to finish of a new show. Family Guy? Perhaps. In Californication Showtime has one of its strongest hits . . . ever. The writing is bitingly crisp, intelligent and fresh. Duchovny's delivery has the timing of a master comic actor and his portrayal of Hank is winning. As with the very best of comedies, beneath the bubbly surface of Californication is a show that in a single episode reveals richly drawn characters of depth and purpose. Hank's lecherousness, womanizing, wry wit and in-your-face bluntness succeed only partially in covering up a complex (or perhaps merely complicated?) man who appears to be facing all of his mid life crisis's at once. Every note in this comic symphony was perfectly struck and I look forward to getting to know Hank - and the rest of his gang - better as the weeks go by. Bravo Showtime!

Schizo (2004)
5 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Brilliance out of Kahzikstan, 14 April 2007

Schizo. This appears to be the first major picture out of Kahzikstan and what an impressive, stunning debut of a film. Schizo is the story of a 15 year old boy everyone thinks is schizophrenic. He's kicked out of school for fighting, but instantly the viewer will recognize this young man as the sanest, most responsible person in the film. He's hired by his mother's boyfriend to recruit fighters for illegal bare-knuckle fights. Shortly into his new career, a young dying fighter asks the boy to bring his winnings to his girlfriend and his son. Immediately Schizo develops a sense of responsibility for this little family and does whatever he can to ensure their well being. Things turn nasty, but a pervading sense of hope seems to light Schizo's eyes and one never questions his judgment and he stays true to some code of honor that no one else seems to have in this tale. It's a powerful, beautiful story with a sensational film debut from Oldzhas Nusupbayev. Throughout the film I kept wondering "where did they FIND this kid?" - and I was startled to learn he had never before acted, had no family and was actually growing up in an orphanage and discovered there. His performance is the lynchpin on which the entire film is hinged. Writer/Director Guka Omarova's location scenes are visually strong, conveying a sort of resigned hopelessness and presenting a post-Soviet Kahzikstan landscape that feels like a world that had been stripmined for all its worth and then merely abandoned. Equally as impressive as this landscape are the wildly diverse and unforgettable faces of the multi-ethnic populations of this country. Olga Landina plays the love interest and she is like a young, vibrant, Eastern bloc Rebecca Demornay. Hot. Schizo is a real find!

Wanted (1998)
2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Terrible . . . but unintentional fun., 19 February 2007

Pretty terrible, but not entirely unwatchable. Another review mentioned "predictable" - and that's almost an understatement. You can make a game out of guessing what the next line will be. Every character is either stereotype or archetypical. The good guy in a bad situation, the struggle between older and younger priest on acceptance and discipline, the repressed, sexually/emotionally deprived woman returning to the small town after failing in the big city, engaged to the hotheaded, feeble minded beau from youth, the unredeemable bad guys, two "lost boys" looking for a sense of family - they're all here, and none of them with even the remotest spin of something new. From the first few minutes you can figure out exactly what will happen by film's end. The story isn't entirely lame, but direction, acting (even from a cast with some talent) everything is thrown together without skill. As to the storyline, we've all seen it before in a movie called "Sister Act." This is also one of those films where inattention to small details show up in an even more glaring light. (As example: the nurse and our hero drive into town but park several blocks away from their destinations (post office and hardware store) - yet both walk across empty parking lots for no apparent reason. Or the passage of morning to night during a scene that seemingly should occur in no more than half an hour. The movie is filled with that kind of stuff and then tags on an improbable denouement.

2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Thought Provoking Action Film, 17 March 2006

"V for Vendetta" is going to confuse a lot of people. Nevertheless, and make no mistake about it, this is movie making of the highest order, combining all the finest elements of great storytelling into a potent roller coaster of a movie filled with great action,intellect and above all, ideas. Its message can - and will - easily be dismissed by naysayers as sophomoric or too "out there," or "anti-american" but there is also an earnestness here that will resonate strongly, and perhaps, frighteningly, to many viewers who will not fail to see the correlation between this fictional tale and the way the world we live in works.

Filled with stereotypes and archetypes, "V" is unapologetic in its essaying of morality and in its strongly held sentiment that this tale is "for the people, by the people." Brothers and writers Larry and Andy Wachowski (of Matrix fame) have infused their screenplay with the anger, confusion and hope captured in Alan Moore's original graphic novel - and it's better looking as a result.

I truly believe that many who see "V" will be upset by it, but hopefully more of us will be inspired by its bold, blatant message and take a good hard look at ourselves and the way the world works around us and see that, with sacrifice and thoughtfulness, the world can be changed.

As Evey, Natalie Portman is cast in something of the "victim" role, but she makes us route for her, and to her credit she goes beyond that making the transformation of her character not only believable, but in the end, noble.

Hugo Weaving - the man behind the mask - gives a performance that can only be described as mesmerizing. As "V" he exposes all of the strength and weakness of a character that it equal parts savior and villain.

The physical production is beautiful in its realism as it paints a nightmarish world of the not-very-distant future (2020) and is chilling in its depiction of governmental power, socio-political corruption and, ultimately, the complacency of its citizens. Weaving's "V" challenges, and ultimately changes all of that, as he quickly unravels the fabric of civilized society, capturing the public with his bold ideas - and with the promise and permanency of change through rebellion and in political uprising.

Most chillingly, this film invokes the dread once feared in "1984" with a renewed vigor that brings home all the horrors Orwell foresaw, are still available in our comfy modern world. Chilling? You betcha! For those who know the novel, there is little skimping, and, given the current world situation, one must absolutely applaud the filmmakers for "going there" as far as the ending is concerned. This is film making at its emotional and challenging best.

Are there flaws? Of course there are, but ultimately "V for Vendetta" rises above them presenting a world of ideas that have forever been debated, in a story well told, beautifully acted and full of hope for humankind. Not bad work for a movie. Actually, it's magnificent.

Perceval (1978)
19 out of 21 people found the following review useful:
Rohmer's Glorious Medieval Fantasy, 30 January 2006

Let me start off by saying most folk I know are going to hate this film. I'll go one further: most human beings will hate this film. Rohmer has taken the Parsifilian myth and in translating it for the screen has created a hybrid form of storytelling combing the artifice and conventions of the world of theatre with the continuity we've grown accustomed to in the world of cinema. For some freaks (like yours truly) the wedding of these two formats works in an almost otherworldly manner making it quite unlike any film one is likely to see. Although combining elements of several of the Parsifal legends, Rohmer's retelling seems more centered on Chrétien de Troyes story than von Eisenbach's epic, endless poem.

Visually – here, at least – Rohmer remains in the world of theatre: the sets are often painted flats, or small scale models that suggest or are more representational of the tale's locations than they are visual recreations typically found in film. There are trees constructed of metal, and myriad other odd touches to the set, all of which seems to be on an enormous stylized turntable or disc that revolves as the story progresses. The film is often narrated by a group of madrigal singers who, with their ancient instruments, wander in and out of the picture (and the story) adding commentary and observation serving a function in the manner of a Greek chorus. The effect is charming adding a further medieval, church mystery quality unifying the disparate elements of Rohmer has chosen for his storytelling. Conversely, it is also one of the elements that will annoy the hell out of many viewers.

Rohmer's telling of the tale is primarily centered with the young Perceval's fascination with the world of knights and his desire to enter their world chivalrous universe. In the title role Fabrice Luchini portrays the young novice with a typically cool French sense of detachment, and arrogance – yet somehow manages to balance it all with humility and honor. Fearlessly he passes through all of his trials and in the process shows that arrogance is not always wed with pride; when one's right and aware of his skill and abilities, he needn't be boastful. It's a fascinating portrayal.

Interestingly, and more honestly than most Arthurian films Rohmer suggests more of the turmoil, weakness and near dissolution of Arthur's court than its glory. The young knight's stint at the castle, his integrity and eye for honesty wins the day earning him glory.

Rohmer's pushing of the tale to include Sir Gawain's story moves naturally adding a deeper level to this Arthurian tale, as well as reminding us of the complexity, intertwining, and timelessness of all of these legends.

Even those who may not like will not argue that visually Rohmer has created a world that is often breathtakingly beautiful. Indeed, many of the shots feel as though they'd dropped to us from glorious tapestry hanging from a damp castle wall.

Young Adam (2003)
5 out of 13 people found the following review useful:
Grim and Joyless (And who the heck is Young Adam?), 23 August 2005

My friends and I disagree on this one.

What a dry, dour, charmless film is "Young Adam." The story is bleak the characters, almost all of them, despicable are utterly impossible to route for. Tilda Swinton, an actress I normally find attractive, is here, as Ella, a ghastly, tough, worn out creature and a bit of a shrew but mostly haggish.

Joe, as portrayed by Ewan McGregor (one of my favorite actors) gives his all as a too young to be this world weary, callow man who, having given up his dreams and fantasies of a better life, aimlessly goes through life, with no honor or self respect. For a bit of adventure he bangs nearly every woman in sight. In fact, a betting game can be played whenever a new female character is introduced as to how many minutes before we're having to see their contorted naked bodies going at it.

Bargemates Joe and Les's (an excellent performance by multi talented actor/writer/director Peter Mullan, who's "Orphans" is one of the best things from Scotland in ages) discovery of a dead girl at the film's start, unravels the story in achingly slow fashion and paints an increasingly disturbing picture of Joe. One always wants to route for a film's hero but "Young Adam" doesn't have one. The lead character has nothing redeemable about him and it's depressing to watch a film where not a single shred of hope or decency can break through the grim, gray bleakness.

If you like this sort of thing, you'll love "Young Adam" - as for me, I hated it - something I rarely say about any film. Even the beauty of the way the film was shot (it is visually brilliant) couldn't save this for me. Blech.

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